Sorry for the late post on this, I sent a co-conspirator of mine out to Madison to visit the newest Madison brewery, Karben4. While he was there, he was able to get an interview with Ryan Koga, the head brewer. Enjoy!!
Ryan first worked in a brewery while he was attending graduate school in Billings, Montana. It started as “helping a friend” by picking up shifts on the bottling line at Yellowstone Valley Brewing Company. His “a-ha beer moment” came on that same bottling line. He told me “I didn’t really know anything about beer when I started”. But one day he decided he needed to know what was actually going into these bottles that he was filling. He grabbed an oatmeal stout right off the line and everything else is history. It’s official… Ryan is most certainly a Beer Geek (oh and he’s originally from Appleton)!
Karben4 Brewing has moved into Ale Asylum’s old place on Kinsman BLVD (in Madison). However, when I first stepped into the taproom, it’s easy to see that they have been hard at work since moving in. The taproom has been almost entirely redone. There is now a much larger bar and it wraps around the corner instead of the ‘one-sided’ bar set-up AA previously had. The new space is much more open and also has new artwork that caught my eye. The artist is Ryan’s old time friend Tom… I’ve heard rumors he is also going to be involved in designing the artwork for the labels. I think you’ll understand why I’m excited to see the final product once you have seen the paintings inside the taproom.
“I am the only brewer on staff now. My other partners (Zak and Alex) help me out when I need it, but they fulfill other crucial roles. We'll hire more staff as the demand requires.” He is working with a 15bbl brew house that was partially acquired from AA when they took over the building. Ryan also purchased and installed 3 new 30bbl fermentation tanks. I was lucky enough to get a sample of the SamuRyePA (pre-filtration), straight from one of these new fermenters. I will admit, I was caught up in the moment; but the ‘not-quite-ready’ sample went down like candy and smelled like a bowl of fruit loops. I am looking forward to sampling the final product at the soft opening tonight (December 28).
Once everything is firing on all cylinders Karben4 will have 5 flagship beers; a smoked porter, an amber ale, an APA made with rye (SamuRyePA), a session ale and an Irish red. They will also offer a ‘rotator’ IPA, with a different version for each season. The first of which will be a Black IPA. Avaliable on tap for the soft opening will be the NightCall (the smoked porter), SamuRyePA and BlockParty (the amber ale).
When I asked Ryan what his favorite style of beer is he said it really depends on his mood. His favorite kind of beer is a beer that is well balanced and original. Some of his all-time favorites include Rogue’s Dry Hopped Red, Founder’s Breakfast Stout and Montana Brewing Company’s Expresso Porter. When it comes to his own beers, the Irish Red is his favorite in the winter and the SamuRyePA is his summer favorite.
Ryan’s advice to hombrewers is pretty simple. “Take good notes and do your research”. When developing his own recipes he does as much research as possible; opinion pieces, culinary reviews on specific ingredients, histories, other recipes, etc. He believes he can put more of himself in a beer if he knows the history of the style and each component. He also said a high school chemistry book is always good to have on hand!
Then I asked him if he had any advice for someone interested in starting a craft brewery. His initial comment was “Do more research!” They prepare for the worst and hope for the best, making sure to pay close attention to every detail. “We make our own luck”